The Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival has entertained and empowered audiences since 1989, making it the state’s longest-running celebration of LGBTQ+ cinema. Its longevity is a testament to TIGLFF’s willingness to adapt and evolve.
In recent years that’s meant the creation of smaller festivals designed to elevate trans and BIPOC voices within the LGBTQ+ community, as well as the advent of TIGLFF Online, the festival’s streaming platform. This year’s 34th annual celebration will proceed without it for the first time since 2020, a response to increased in-person attendance and another major change — instead of a nine-day festival held throughout Tampa Bay, TIGLFF will hold two weekend-long events.
The first will be a Tampa edition on Oct. 5-8, opening at the Tampa Theatre before moving to AMC Westshore. TIGLFF’s St. Pete edition will follow Jan. 25-28, 2024.
“What we’ve found over the last few years, particularly since and leading up to the pandemic, was that late films don’t work well because people have to work the next day or they’re just tired,” TIGLFF President Rob Akins says. “And as the nine days went on, it was getting harder and harder for people to keep attending.
“This also alleviates having to run back and forth across the bay during the week,” he continues. “We can focus on Tampa for four days and then in January, the focus will be on St. Pete. It should make it easier for people to attend, because instead of nine days to think about there are three to four, and they aren’t necessarily running back and forth.”
TIGLFF 34 will also proceed without an executive director. Akins says that the role — which was last filled in 2021 by Victor Gimenez, who oversaw TIGLFF 33 — is now vacant. The board opted to go in another direction and will reassess whether to fill the vacancy after this festival.
Making a TIGLFF return, however, is Program Director KJ Mohr. Her celebrated nine-year tenure ended in 2020.
“As soon as I left TIGLFF, I missed it,” Mohr says. “I developed such affection for so many people in our community over the nine years that I was programming for TIGLFF. So as soon as I got the call from Rob, I jumped at the chance to work with the organization again.”
Mohr says she “hit the ground running” in July, thankful TIGLFF “is very familiar territory for me and I’m already aware of what the best films are and where to find them.” She had remained active within the industry since departing.
“Since the TIGLFF Tampa portion is the most immediate and is significantly shorter than usual, it was pretty clear what we should include, what should wait for St. Pete or the spring Trans Fest, and what we had to pass on,” she explains. “It was definitely a challenge to choose fewer films for October, when there is so much that I want our audiences to see, but in the end we’re able to show even more, just spread out.”
TIGLFF’s Tampa edition will feature 12 full-length features and two collections of short films. Opening night has two films, “The Mattachine Family” and “Big Easy Queens,” on Oct. 5.
“‘Mattachine Family’ was the clear opener. It’s a romantic film at its core and a film for everyone, with a nod to gay history as well as a relatable story of contemporary LGBTQ+ concerns,” Mohr says. “It’s a celebratory film and it will be so much fun to see it at the Tampa Theatre with an audience on opening night.”
As for “Big Easy Queens,” she says, the film “is one that folks in the TIGLFF community had been asking us about and when I finally got to see it, I was blown away by the performances and the artistry of the film.” Mohr notes that “it’s extra special because it’s a Florida production and some of the cast members will join us for a pre-screening mini-cabaret show.”
The festival’s narrative spotlight will be “Our Son” on Oct. 6, starring “Pose” alum Billy Porter and Luke Evans, known for “Beauty and the Beast.” It’s billed as “an absorbing exploration of parenthood and family” that Mohr notes is “the sort of slick, bigger budget film that really appeals to our audience.”
“Chasing Chasing Amy” will also screen Oct. 6, TIGLFF Tampa’s documentary spotlight. It focuses on the impact of Kevin Smith’s film “Chasing Amy.”
“This is one that I had been hearing about and it took me by surprise and really hooked and delighted me,” Mohr explains. “It’s wonderfully layered and unexpectedly engrossing! It will have wider appeal, from our queer communities to very straight Kevin Smith fans.”
Flanked by full length features, the two shorts programs will be held Oct. 7. The first includes nine films in the afternoon and an evening shorts program will follow with eight others before closing night Oct. 8.
“Our closing night film ‘Glitter and Doom’ is a classic celebration of queerness from LGBTQ+ festival favorite Tom Gustafson, who brought us ‘Were the World Mine’ and ‘Hello Again’ in past festivals,” Mohr says. “It’s a star-studded, gorgeous, sweet love story extravaganza set to Indigo Girls music. It’s a feel-good, celebratory closer.”
TIGLFF Tampa will also feature a Queer in Color sidebar in lieu of an independent festival focusing on BIPOC voices this year. The first film is “All the Colours of the World are Between Black and White” on Oct. 7.
“It is unlike any film I’ve seen out of Nigeria,” Mohr says. “It’s not Nollywood and it’s not typical New Nigerian Cinema, but an unassuming modern tale of two men who meet and move around Lagos as they get to know each other, a solid indie standout.”
The second is “Black Barbie,” which she calls “brilliant” and “everything that I was missing from the ‘Barbie’ movie.” The must-see screens Oct. 7 as well.
Akins says he’s excited for this year’s format, which could change depending on audience response. He sees TIGLFF as a powerful way to build community amidst Florida’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws.
“This is our 34th year and obviously, a lot has happened and changed in the last 34 years,” he notes. “A couple of years ago I thought the whole reason for these sorts of festivals no longer existed because of the increased equality we have, streaming where you can find LGBTQ+ content and LGBTQ+ movies getting releases at mainstream theaters, things like that. And then [Governor Ron] DeSantis happened. It just shows that the reason is still there.”
TIGLFF hopes others see that as well, both by supporting this year’s split festival and helping to organize future endeavors.
“The organization is looking for people to get involved and take up the cause as it were,” Akins says. “TIGLFF is at a critical juncture and the board has decided to make a public plea for new board members to ensure the continuation of TIGLFF as a necessary LGBTQ+ arts organization in the Tampa Bay area. The organization needs people from all communities of the greater LGBTQ+ community.”
“It’s a wonderful thing to be among community and that’s what a festival is all about, a celebration of queerness and our stories and experiencing them together,” Mohr adds. “The need for that will never go away. Especially when our rights and wellbeing are being threatened more than they have been in decades, strangely. We have to band together and this celebration is a wonderful place for that.”
TIGLFF’s Tampa edition will be held Oct. 5-8. Opening night will be at the Tampa Theatre at 711 N. Franklin St. before moving to AMC Westshore, located at 210 Westshore Plaza. Single tickets are $15, four for $45 or $125 for highest access.